Christmas

Monologues in Minutes

You know I love a writing challenge, so it was inevitable that I’d put my name in the hat for RapidReel. They’ve been having challenges throughout lockdown, where a bunch of writers are given a prompt at 9am, they have until noon to send back a 1-2 minute monologue script with a character note to aid casting, and then suitable actors have 4 hours to read, rehearse, film and upload the finished thing.

On Friday evening when I got the email to check I was available to take part on Saturday, I’d almost forgotten I’d signed up, so it had an element of pleasant surprise about it and I was sat at the computer by five to nine on Saturday morning, keyed up and ready to go. We got a photo prompt, someone walking up a sloping tunnel towards what looked to me like sunshine. I drank Earl Grey and brainstormed with a biro. Words it made me think of. At the back of my mind, but not written down, was a thought about Time Team. Five minutes later I started writing about Time Team.

Time Team, for those not British, old or nerdy enough to know, was a long-running programme where a group of archaeologists had 3 days to dig some interesting site and see what they could learn. I loved it, I watch old episodes whenever I get the opportunity, and their dig at Piercebridge already inspired my story Ghost Bridge which is in the first Crossing the Tees anthology. But I digress…

By 9.50 I’d written a monologue from the point of view of a farmer’s son in his 20s that was safely within the time limit, prompted by the picture, and was light-hearted. Working title: Inspired by Time Team. Time to run it past OneMonkey.

“So what do you think?”

“You’ve done your usual trick with the ending.”

“What do you mean, usual trick?”

“With the last two lines you’ve hinted at the start of a whole new story which has the potential to be way more interesting than the one you’ve just told.”

“Oh.”

Back to the scribbling board.

OneMonkey brought me a huge mug of black coffee and I wrote a different ending to Inspired by Time Team, but before I had the chance to read it to him I’d been seized by another burst of inspiration. Half past ten saw me finish a monologue from the point of view of a woman in her 50s. Working title: Redundant. Still plenty of time to polish it up, but I wanted to read it to OneMonkey first.

“You’ve done that thing with the ending again.”

Drat! I wrote a second ending to Redundant, read it to OneMonkey knowing he’d been right, knowing this one was better, waiting for the nod of approval from my trusted first-reader.

“The ending works now. But…”

“It’s nearly the same character as Custard Cream isn’t it?”

For those who haven’t seen it yet, I Could Murder a Custard Cream is a darkly comic monologue I wrote, which was made into a film for Slackline Cyberstories last month (you can read about it here).

“What happened to the rewrite of Inspired by Time Team?”

So I read him that and he liked it, and so did I. It wouldn’t make me look quite so much like I could only write monologues for middle-aged women. And it was light-hearted. We could all do with a bit more light-hearted these days. It was well after eleven but there was still plenty of time to edit it to my final satisfaction, come up with a proper title, check all the formatting and file-naming guidelines again, edit it some more, and send it in. Plenty of time.

I came so close to calling it Farmer Jones and the Field Drain of Doom. I opted for A Ferret Too Far – this may have been partly influenced by writing a radio play involving a wereferret on Thursday. But that, as they say, is a whole other story.

I faffed with commas, I wrote a quick character note. I changed one mild swear word for another. I re-read all the guidelines. I pressed send at 11.56 and sank back, drained, half-expecting to be told I’d named my file with the wrong date or some such glaring violation. But no, all was well.

So if you’d like a minute and forty-five seconds of light relief in the form of a young man called Alan doing a lovely job on A Ferret Too Far (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you can watch it here:

 

Warning: timeshift approaching

Preparing to leap into 2018 with renewed vigour and a sense of purpose (no, really) I thought I’d wrap up the year with some random observations, mainly springing from Christmas.

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OneMonkey’s parents kindly bought me a couple of graphic novels for Christmas: Grandville Force Majeure, and Blacksad. The Grandville novel is the final volume of Bryan Talbot’s fantastic series about a badger who’s a detective in an England where France won the Napoleonic wars, and I’d been looking forward to it immensely (I read it the day after I got it, and it was tense, thrilling, and a fabulous end). I think OneMonkey’s parents have bought me all five of the Grandville novels, and before that they supplied a few volumes of Cerebus the Aardvark (which kickstarted my love of comics, as detailed here in 2010) so maybe there was a need to fill the gap, or maybe the lass in the Newcastle Travelling Man was particularly enthusiastic, anyway they hit upon Blacksad. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s from Spain, sounds good, and is about a detective (spot the theme?) who’s a cat. OneMonkey immediately noticed the abc of anthropomorphic lead characters in his parents’ gifts (aardvark, badger, cat) so I’m intrigued to know where I might go from here. Any good ones about dragons kicking about?

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I got a couple of other books for Christmas (the Mike Savage one has graphs in, that’ll keep me happy for a while), some notebooks, a beautifully distracting Moomin diary to keep on my desk and write deadlines in, and a pen and pencil set from The Nephew (who I didn’t see until a couple of days after I took the photo). Not many books were exchanged in our house on Christmas Day this year, though we gave The Nephew three: two as presents and one I’d finished with and thought he might like (Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow). And come to think of it I bought three for Big Brother and my dad gave him a Robert Rankin novel I was returning to the Library of Mum and Dad (basically he didn’t have anywhere to put it and Big Brother was sitting next to him on the sofa). So some of us did ok for reading material.

I’m yet to count up how many books I’ve read this year, but not as many as in 2016 I think. That could be the lack of a commute beginning to show, or it could be related to the number of story submissions I’ve made this year (again, not counted up yet but a huge increase on 2016). The final submission of the year was made this afternoon, now I’m going to get my reading and writing back in balance by settling down with a cup of tea, the last mince pie, and a half-read copy of Brasyl by Ian McDonald.

Wishing you all a peaceful 2018 filled with all the books you want to read, all the creative endeavours you’ve got the energy for, and a liberal sprinkling of quiet contentment.

I blinked, and half December went

I’ve put some tinsel up, I’ve eaten five mince pies, I’ve tutted frequently at overdone lighting displays in the neighbourhood: it must be nearly Christmas. We even have a tiny sprinkling of snow.

I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks, mainly because I couldn’t write (or think) about anything much except library funding cuts for a while. A project I’ve been passionate about for some time, which we (three of Ilkley Writers) were about to announce, suddenly has no funding. In a mild panic, I rang the Arts Council for advice about obtaining funding for the project ourselves. Their guidance documents are not the easiest things to plough through and understand, but we haven’t even got that far yet. To register for their online system you need to  give them the details of the current account they’d need to pay any grant into. It can be an organisational account, or an individual’s account, but what it can’t be is a couple’s joint account. Guess what we all have? Not that surprising given that a) we’re middle-aged and in long-term relationships, and b) none of us have steady full-time jobs. “Just open a new account,” says the young man on the phone, as if he’s never had the trial of proving identity and income to a bank that doesn’t want his custom.

It’s not all been doom and gloom, however. I’ve got a new story up at Visual Verse, One Thing At A Time, written from a photo prompt. I had a 25-word novel included in the latest issue of Mslexia, and in further Twitter fiction news this morning I won a competition for a Christmas story:

There’s an anthology coming out this week from Paper Swans Press that has one of my flash fiction pieces in, too (you can pre-order Flash, I Love You! here) so things are on the up, there are more mince pies in the cupboard, and it’s not even Christmas yet. I wonder if Santa does arts funding?

The gate to storyland

Some objects are full of stories. Take this small wooden gate:

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Earlier this year I spotted it on a shelf in a local charity shop and couldn’t resist. Not unreasonably, OneMonkey asked why on earth I wanted it and what I was going to do with it. I just do, I said, and I’m going to put it somewhere and look at it – what else?

The truth is, it was the story behind the wooden gate that appealed to me. It’s the sort of thing my dad might make as trackside scenery for a model train (he builds the kind that actually run on coal, outdoors) but it’s an odd scale, the base-board is about a foot long. There was nothing similar on nearby shelves, it was in good condition and the gate opens, so: what did it get made for, and why did someone get rid of it? There’s the mundane explanation that it could have been a test piece for learning a particular woodwork technique, and once made it was just taking up valuable house room. That’s a bit boring though, and I’ve thought of lots of better ones in idle moments, but I assumed it was only me who was interested in it.

Sister Number One noticed at Christmas that I’d added the hedgehog and the mouse which have lived on my bookcase for many years. Big Brother then suggested I get a suitably sized rucksack and sit it on the stile, perhaps with a walking stick propped against it. And a pair of boots, he added. Boots? Yes, then we’ll wonder where the walker’s gone and what’s through the gate. And we all sat and looked at a second-hand model gate, and wondered.

Week 8: Leave it till after Christmas

This has been a week of friends, family, and hedonism (2 pints of real ale, 4 chocolates and a glass of mulled cider. Not all on the same day, obviously). A week of train travel (no excuse needed to spend hours reading), abandoning routine, and Christmas Day.

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A selection of my Christmas goodies

I rediscovered my ability to write with music on, this year, so the albums I got for Christmas don’t have to compete with writing time. I’m afraid I didn’t do any writing on Christmas Day, nor did I watch the Doctor Who special for later discussion with Big Brother. We were together, in a house with no TV, at the time it was on so he hasn’t seen it either. As usual, books both new and second-hand were passed around the family as presents, and I’m waiting to borrow the copy of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography BB received.

I hope you, dear reader, had a safe and enjoyable Christmas with your preferred level of hedonism and book-gifts. If you haven’t already, may I suggest you listen to Radio 4’s wonderful adaptation of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series, the festive instalment is on the iplayer now, with Bill Nighy as Charles in The Cinderella Killer. I wish I could write like that…

Week 5: Sleighbells ring, I’m not listening

Somebody please tell me how it’s December 5th. I’ve had the first listen to the old Metal Christmas tape, I’ve eaten half a dozen mince pies, but I’m not getting what you’d call festive. There is no tinsel in my heart. Of course this won’t surprise anyone that much if they’ve ever encountered me in December before, but I do try (sometimes) to feel the excitement and capture the magic. In a non-consumer-capitalist way, obviously.

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Hat(s) courtesy Sister Number 1.

Closest I’ve got this year so far is via the fabulous sketches by Chris Mould for Matt Haig’s new children’s book The Girl Who Saved Christmas – he’s tweeting pages day by day I think. Incidentally, it looks like Chris Mould is from Bradford, which I honestly only noticed after I’d been bowled over by his illustrating style…

This week I’ve made two story submissions, and written nearly 6,000 words of the novel I was doing for NaNoWriMo (it got derailed so I’m giving it a bit longer). And read a lot of urban fantasy (which is relevant to the novel I’m writing).

Time to start thinking back on the (reading and writing) year, soon. How has yours been?

Christmas reading

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This Christmas I said it with books to my parents, Big Brother, The Nephew, and one of the two friends I give presents to. As you can see from the left hand side of the picture, I got a few books myself (plus money for ebooks including Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless) and I’m looking forward to finding the time to read some of those in the next few weeks. The right hand side of the picture shows the book I’m reading at the moment, which I bought in autumn with last year’s Christmas money. Maybe I need to get quicker at working through the To Read pile.

I hope all of you had a good festive period, found the time to read, got some good book recommendations (or indeed some good books) from friends and family and are generally feeling rested. Here’s to 2016.

Traditional festive ramblings

Owl cake

Christmas cake dressed as an owl, made by my talented friend

Although the weather might be making you think otherwise, it is very nearly Christmas. Mince pie consumption is nearing its peak, books of the year lists are everywhere you turn, and it’s almost time for the Doctor Who special. For those of us lucky enough to have a reasonable chunk of holiday it’s the last chance to read all those books we promised ourselves this year and it’s also a great concentrated writing slot.

Consider past years, weigh it up according to how well you know me, then answer the following questions:

  • How many words will I actually have written by January 3rd?
  • How many mince pies will I have eaten when I should really have been getting down to some serious editing?
  • At what point on Christmas Day will Big Brother and I dissect the Doctor Who special?
  • How many books will be given as presents in my immediate family?
  • How many of those will be second-hand?

Season’s greetings to all, and I’ll get back to listening to this Hives album, make another cup of tea, grab a mince pie, and try and finish reading The Establishment by Owen Jones before I’m overcome by festive lethargy.

Festive highlights, week 1

The first of my two weeks off work is just about over, and as was inevitable I’ve done a pitiful amount of writing. I have, however, read most of Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (bit gruesome in places, but then it is set in hell), eaten quite a few mince pies, a wedge of stollen and an awful lot of roast potatoes, and listened to some great radio.

The radio in question naturally includes the adaptation of the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel Good Omens I’ve been looking forward to for months. Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap as Crowley and Aziraphale are fantastic, and it’s actually made me want to go back and re-read the novel, though I probably won’t as the To Read pile is teetering as it is.

I’ve also listened to the final ever Cabin Pressure, John Finnemore’s superb airline sitcom (I do like a series that ends properly instead of drifting on till they stop commissioning it), and the first episode of a fantasy series called Pilgrim (think old magic, think English countryside, think Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but more to the point). All of this has sent me scurrying off to half-finished stories of my own (mainly of the comic fantasy variety), all fired up and ready to type. Right after I’ve had another mince pie.

The disorganisation before Christmas

Does the fact that I’ve missed two Wednesday posts without noticing tell you how well-organised I am at the moment? My body clock is still set to October, and waking up to Christmas morning next week is going to come as something of a shock. Last Wednesday I got to within 3 pages of the end of a book on the way home and picked up a fresh one for the morning commute, thinking I’d read those last few pages later. I still haven’t, and memories of the preceding story are beginning to fade. That’ll be one more item to add to the list of things to do during my two weeks off work; it’s already physically impossible to fit them all in.

Shiny red Christmas hat and bowls of nuts

As I wander off to make another cup of tea, grab a mince pie and look for the list that tells me where all my lists are, I’ll take the opportunity to wish my readers (both the regular and the just-stopped-by) a Merry Christmas, or other winter festival of choice, in case I don’t get round to the next two Wednesday posts either. I hope you get all the books you wanted, or a book token, or a new friend with a well-stocked library (not as a Christmas present, I more sort of meant making friends at a party or during a long wait at a cold bus stop).

Where did that month go?

Looks like I haven’t been here for a month, not sure how that happened. No doubt you all missed me and have been waiting for my return (it’s nearly Christmas, I’m allowed to dream). The sci-fi noir novel I was writing for NaNoWriMo (Sunrise Over Centrified City, as its working title goes) reached just over 25,000 words by midnight on November 30th. It’s now creeping slowly to 35,000 and I’m still working away reasonably steadily, still enjoying myself. Maybe that’s how come a month has passed without me noticing.

It is of course the season of mince pies and tinsel which heralds, apart from the imminent arrival of friends and family to scoff the aforementioned mince pies, the end of the year. All those writing goals I didn’t stick to! The craft projects I didn’t complete for the third year running! People I haven’t met up with, places I haven’t been, jumpers I haven’t fished out of the back of the cupboard. Yes, it’s time for the annual wallowing in negativity and despair. However, this is what tinsel was invented for – to shine its purple plastic positivity around the house and enable you to dust yourself off and start planning for the year to come. All those writing goals. And the craft projects I know I can finish if I just find the right time. Now where’s my 2014 calendar?

The highly predictable review of the year, and a preview of 2013

With one mince pie and a heel of stollen left in the tin, it’s time to turn our attention to the changing of the calendar. A moment to pause and reflect on the twelve months behind, and start planning the next batch.

2012 saw the release of my first novel Wasted Years, as an e-book costing £1.99. It also saw, back in January, the free electronic release of the graphic novel I wrote a few years ago, Boys Don’t Cry. If you’ve read those and are eager for further output, you might not have to wait too long: plans are afoot for a small collection of my short stories (I would call it a slim volume, but it’ll be an e-book), mostly unpublished ones, to be called The Little Book of Northern Women. I’ve been designing the cover this very morning.

In case anyone’s interested, my submission level for 2012 was higher than ever before, but since it mostly consisted of competition entries I have very little to show for it, at least in the way of publications. In the way of fun, friendships, silliness, and mentions in the Telegraph (here and here), there’s been quite a bit, thanks to Louise Doughty and the SSC. Apart from Kelvin and JulieT, I don’t think I can point you at any of my SSC comrades, I don’t even know most of their names, but I can point you at one of the best stories to win the monthly competition, which happens to have been written by possibly the most active member of the SSC: go read ’76 by Kipples, I’ll be here when you get back.

I hope you enjoyed that story, I did. Anyway, apart from SSC output, I’ve been reading the usual mix of Doctor Who novels, crime, fantasy, sci-fi, writing manuals, and literary fiction this year (and a history of British trade unionism). I got an e-reader for Christmas (Kobo mini, since you asked) and I’ve already started filling it with Anthony Trollope novels I haven’t yet enjoyed (he did write an awful lot of books). So many books, so little time, as ever.

May you all have a year filled with all the books you most want to read, all the story acceptances you warrant, and some understanding relatives for when the deadlines are looming. See you on the other side of midnight.

Welcome to the fastest week of the year

So, it’s Christmas week again. How did that happen? Today is already the second day of my long festive break and I haven’t done any writing yet. Thus the guilt begins. Looking at it positively though, I have made one submission so far (I’m aiming for a few more before the year finally sputters to a halt) and I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Castle Waiting vol 1 by Linda Medley, a hardback graphic novel that was a touch on the heavy side so didn’t get taken along on the commute. Once I’ve finished that I’ll probably move on to one of the hefty paperbacks that’s been waiting around for similar reasons, maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

I have mixed views on the Festive Hiatus. No going to work till early January, all routines disrupted, and the chance to do what you want. On the other hand all routines disrupted includes writing routines, and then there are the family gatherings, seasonal films that absolutely have to be watched this week, attempts at baking, boxes of inviting chocolates… Distractions aplenty and no particular inclination to resist them. While I wouldn’t miss out on ridiculous conversations with Big Brother for anything, there are aspects of the festivities I could do without. I’ll be the one in the corner with a notebook during that long aftermath to Christmas dinner, when half the family’s asleep and not much is going on.

The festive excuse note

It looks like the post a week thing has finally crumbled, but I’ll let myself off because over the whole year I’ve missed very few weeks. It’s the festive season, specifically that weird bit between Christmas and New Year when everything’s on hiatus. Including, apparently, me.

I’ve been avoiding writing since I’ve been on holiday, too much like hard work. I’ve got the Debut Dagger entry to put together, which is frankly terrifying, and I should tidy up some mostly-finished stories to send off to places. Inevitably of course I’ve been eating mince pies, doing vastly important rearrangements of the newly reinstated bookcase, and generally filling up my days such that I go to bed wondering where the time went.

Thankfully, Neil Gaiman has set me back on track. Not personally, of course, and I haven’t even been reading his usually absorbing journal lately. I have been travelling on trains a lot though, and yesterday I picked up a book almost at random (it had a purple cover, which was enough to catch my eye) from the To Read pile. It was Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of stories and poems by Neil Gaiman, which has a long introduction with notes on each piece.

One of the things I like about Neil Gaiman’s journal is its feeling of honesty (I’m not saying it is honest, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t filtered and buffed up and slanted in particular ways); the illusion that here is this perfectly ordinary Englishman, with the same problems of self-doubt, occasional laziness, lack of inspiration, and looming deadlines as the rest of us. Here, we think, is something I could aspire to, it’s not entirely beyond my reach, no superhuman powers needed. Of course that’s glossing over the ability to write gripping stories well, but that’s not necessarily relevant at this point.

And so to Smoke and Mirrors. I’m about halfway through and though I confess I’ve been more puzzled than anything by the poems (I think I knocked my poetry Off switch a couple of years ago and I can’t seem to accidentally elbow it back into life), almost all of the stories so far have made me berate myself for letting such a book languish on my shelf for six months. Though if I’d read it immediately in the summer, it wouldn’t have been available to provide that much-needed spark of inspiration now. Which it has. The stories themselves have fired me up, but the notes in the introduction have been useful in an Ah, he does that too sort of a way, like a narrowly-focused version of his journal.

Not having a hat with me, I’ll raise my sister’s jaunty Christmas-pudding-shaped hat to Mr Gaiman and wish him a marvellous festive season and all the best for 2012. And that goes for you, too.

November ended a few days ago

NaNoWriMo resulted in just over 23,000 words of detective novel, so no winner’s certificate but I’m still counting this as a win of sorts, and so should you if your NaNo activity didn’t make the 50,000 but did get you writing. As well as 2 days selling comics, which I’d planned for, I was ill for a while so in all I had 10 days where I didn’t write a single word. I’ve kept up my habit of lunchtime writing, and I’ve now conclusively shown I can write lots, regularly, without becoming a total stranger to OneMonkey. I am feeling rather pleased with myself.

I lost track of time a bit towards the end of the month, where I was frantically making up for the lost days. So I never got round to blogging last weekend, and I missed 2 short story deadlines right at the start of December, which I’m really kicking myself for – the story submissions have been almost non-existent while I’ve been concentrating on detective novels.

And now we’re counting down to Christmas; I’m limbering up for full-on bah humbug mode, and in the meantime I’m filling up on mince pies and dry roasted peanuts. And planning the long writing sessions I’m hoping to get in over the Christmas break. We’re due our first snow tomorrow, though it’s already been sleeting, but instead of worrying about the rose trees I haven’t planted yet, I’ll focus on the prospect of getting stuck at home – I have a cupboard full of mince pies and teabags, a laptop and a head-full of ideas. Sounds like heaven.

One last thing: my detective story is now up on the Comets and Criminals website if you’d like to check that out.

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

Over my long, busy yet somehow unproductive festive break I was introduced to my first e-reader. A friend had received a Kindle for Christmas and was just getting to grips with its features. Up to now I’ve been sceptical about e-readers, from the practical considerations of battery life and screen brightness to the aesthetics of a coverless book with no smell of musty paper. I am by no means converted and I still don’t see myself rushing out to buy one, but some of my biggest objections were overcome: it kind of ‘writes’ the page then switches off, so if you’re lingering on one page for ages, apparently you’re not using the battery, and there was no discernible shine so it didn’t feel like reading a screen. It’s not that comfortable to hold though – if you’re a ‘tea in one hand, book in the other’ reader like me, what you really want is something with a notch that mimics the v-shape of paperback pages that you rest your thumb between. Or a handle so you can hold it like a lorgnette, maybe.

The other big objection I had was that I love books as well as the stuff that goes in them, it’s the same objection I’ve had to digital-only music. But that’s sort of when I had my moment of revelation: there are some albums I must own on vinyl, they are a total sensory experience in themselves, but there are quite a few that I used to have on tape and it didn’t bother me because I only wanted to be able to listen to the content. When I was a teenager I had a personal cassette player (I’m not going to call it a walkman because it wasn’t, I think it was a Panasonic though that may have been OneMonkey’s), so I decided before I set out how many and which tapes I needed, and had to lug them around with me, and if a tape chewed or my mood had changed or I got stuck on a bus in a traffic jam and ran out of tapes I was annoyed. These days I have an MP3 player and I can carry more albums than my strength or rucksack would have allowed back then in something about a third the size of a cassette, and I don’t worry about the lack of sleeve notes or cover art because the ones I’m properly bothered about I just listen to on vinyl at home. How many times have I misjudged the number of books I needed on a long train journey and either cursed myself for carrying too many, or run out before journey’s end?

However, what about the thrill of the chase – hunting down the last book of the series second-hand? What about second-hand books at all, and the joy of swopping, passing on or passing down (I have a novel which belonged to my 3xgreat grandma and a whole host of my great-uncle’s books), feeling the history in the weight of the cover, owning samples of ancestral handwriting in the name written inside or the dedication ‘to mother on her birthday’? It just doesn’t seem the same to tell someone you think they’d like this book, they should go spend money and download it themselves – one of the great things about lending a friend a book on the offchance they’ll enjoy it is that if you’ve misjudged it they haven’t wasted any money and can only curse you for the half-hour they spent wrangling with the first couple of chapters. How long would books be available digitally, would they still go ‘out of print’ or would they persist somewhere? As at least some of my ancestors were almost certainly Luddites (by which I mean machine-breakers trying to protect their livelihoods, not whatever twisted definition people seem to use for Luddite these days) I feel I should also hold back on the grounds that the people who work at the printer, distribution company, bookshop, paper mill etc would be out of a job if we all went digital.

I’ll be sticking to books for the foreseeable future, the same way I stick to vinyl – for the full sensory experience. But don’t rule out spotting me on a train with an e-reader in a year or two.

Twelve days of procrastination

Today is what I would call Twelfth Night, but the Book of Days has as Twelfth Day (which makes more sense I suppose).

The two volumes of The Book of Days

To me it’s nothing more than the last day you’re supposed to have Christmas decorations up (and I duly spent all of three minutes whipping the half-dozen pieces of tinsel off the top of paintings and mirrors, and taking Christmas cards off the shelf) but it seems a whole host of traditions have been lost, and in the 1860s it was said to be second only to Christmas as a popular festival. There was (at least for the rich) the ‘costly and elegant’ Twelfth-cake, and parties with food, drink (claret blood flowing from a pasteboard stag, anyone?) and games (including serious gambling). In a way it seems a shame to have lost all these old feasts, but for the sake of all those on their annual January diet and counting the cost of Christmas it’s probably for the best in this case.

Since this is the last day of my long festive break I guess I should have a feast of my own, a final celebration before my return to work. Tea and stollen it is then.

Introspective retrospective

Partly for inspiration, partly to avoid repeating myself too much, I’ve just had a read through my posts from the last couple of Christmas breaks. It made me realise how little reading I did at Christmas this year, in fact I haven’t picked up the book I’m currently reading (History of Education in Great Britain by SJ Curtis, interesting but heavy-going so it’s taking me a while to get through) since the 23rd.

Books were still quite a feature of Christmas in the parental home, being given to OneMonkey (by me), me (by OneMonkey and my parents), my mum (by me and my sisters), Big Brother (by sister number 2) and my dad (by Big Brother and probably my mum and sisters though I realise I wasn’t paying attention at that point). On Christmas Day, however, the spare hours were filled with board games and Doctor Who. This year I was sitting next to BB, so we didn’t have to pull it to pieces on the phone later, though given the high quality of Moffat-written Christmas special we wouldn’t have had to anyway. Most enjoyable (and very little Amy Pond, which is a bonus in my opinion).

Which brings me to the other recurring feature, the resolutions and the look-back over the year. In 2010 I made only about three-quarters the number of submissions I made in 2009; 2 are still out and I had 6 accepted (compared with 7 in 2009) so although I slackened off a bit in 2010 (submissions between the end of February and the end of October only) I still did OK. One of the accepted pieces is due out soon in The View From Here.

The graphic novel, Boys Don’t Cry, finally came out in 2010 which was probably the high-point of the year for me – it’s something we’d talked about for so long, and its emergence has provided me with proof that with enough nagging from OneMonkey I really can stop talking about doing something and actually do it. I also bought a fabulous trilby this year (as seen at Thought Bubble) which lives by my bureau and is worn for inspiration, particularly for that noir mood (though I am in fact wearing it as I write this).

So all in all, another good year but as usual with a hint of ‘must try harder’. I shall finish this now, replenish my new mug with Earl Grey, grab a mince pie and get down to the serious business of finishing the story for Ostragoth Publishing’s next moody venture.

And so that was Christmas

Well, that’s Christmas over and done with for another year. Some will be sad, others breathing a sigh of relief by now. I was lucky with the writing-related presents this year:

My Saratoga (Charlie Bradshaw Mystery) collection is now complete and I look forward to reading those last 2; I now have my very own DVD of Billy Liar to watch whenever I feel like; a snazzy new mug for the all-important tea; a fancy pocket notebook; and from OneMonkey the novel which the fabulous film Elling was based on, and Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy (I’m sure by now you all know how much I love reading books that work me up about education, class and The North). Looks like January’s going to be an enjoyable month, though whether I’ll get much actual writing done is debatable, probably more in the way of background reading, learning from the masters etc.

This is day 5 of my 15-day festive break, and I’ve done no writing so far. Mark suggested we should set each other creative challenges for the year ahead, though whether either of us would stick to them is another matter. Certainly looks like I need to start shaping some writing resolutions (again).